Hong Kong recalibrates Covid-19 strategy to maintain zero-infection record

The Hong Kong government's key strategy is to prevent imported cases. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG - As Hong Kong clocks almost two months or 56 days with no local coronavirus cases, its officials are rolling out a recalibrated strategy - from trimming quarantine for vaccinated visitors to ramping up vaccination for civil servants and school staff.

Given the new wave of pandemic in the world, coupled with a more infectious Delta variant, Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam on Monday (Aug 2) said the government's key strategy is to prevent imported cases.

Currently, all who enter Hong Kong must present negative nucleic acid test results done within 72 hours before boarding the flight, and only Hong Kong residents can enter the city if they are coming from high-risk countries.

Under the tweaked rules, non-residents from high-risk areas can also enter Hong Kong if they are fully vaccinated. The new rules take effect from Aug 9.

For medium-risk areas, only Hong Kong residents and vaccinated non-residents can enter. Before the change, all travellers from medium-risk areas could enter Hong Kong.

Currently, all arrivals have to be quarantined in designated hotels - for seven days for those from low-risk areas and up to 21 days for those from high-risk areas.

The new rules state that those from medium-risk areas can choose to take an antibody test in Hong Kong, undergo a shorter seven-day hotel quarantine and self-monitor for another seven days.

On the flip side, residents who are not inoculated but entering Hong Kong will have to do seven more days of quarantine.

For instance, if a non-vaccinated resident comes from a low-risk area, instead of having to undergo a seven-day mandatory quarantine, he will have to do 14 days.

The government will also step up mandatory testing for all arrivals. Mrs Lam said that at most, some people would have taken seven mandatory tests within 19 days of arrival, including the ones at the airport.

As for staff who deal with arrivals - such as quarantine hotel staff and transportation workers - they must all be vaccinated, she said.

The Chief Executive added that the "get vaccinated or pay for your own tests" scheme that began on Monday will also be ramped up.

Starting Sept 1, unvaccinated civil servants will have to take the Covid-19 tests at their own expense, and those who refuse to get the jabs or be tested will face disciplinary actions.

Mrs Lam said Hospital Authority staff, care home workers and staff of public schools will be next in line to be included in the scheme.

So far, 70 per cent of civil servants, 67 per cent of Hospital Authority staff, 64 per cent of staff of elderly and disabled homes, as well as 47 per cent of primary, secondary and special schools staff have been vaccinated.

Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung said that from Sept 1, all school employees and those who frequent campuses will have to get at least the first dose of vaccine or pay for their tests every two weeks. Exemptions are made for those who cannot get their shots due to health reasons.

He said resumption of full-day in-person classes can be considered when schools' vaccination rate reaches 70 per cent.

So far, 48 per cent of Hong Kong's eligible population have had their first dose while 36 per cent have had two shots.

As at July 25, the authorities received reports of 4,500 adverse reactions or 0.09 of those vaccinated, and that most are mild cases. There were 27 deaths or a fatality rate of 0.005 per cent, but none were found to have direct links to the use of vaccines.

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said that in August, the government will have unvaccinated restaurant workers at type B establishments go for more regular tests.

Type B eateries are allowed to offer dine-in services until 10pm, with the number of patrons at each table capped at four. Staff at these restaurants may either be vaccinated or go for tests every two weeks.

"Relevant workers will have to get tested every seven days instead of 14 days, while those already vaccinated will be exempted from the requirement," said Prof Chan.

She added that the city's social distancing measures will be extended for another two weeks till Aug 18.

So far, Hong Kong has recorded more than 11,900 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 212 deaths.

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